Geplaatst op: 18-10-2017
Auteur: Greg Richards
Tilburg University & NHTV

Co-creating the Hospitable City?

The growth of youth hostels and Airbnb

Co-creating the Hospitable City?
The rise of co-creation in tourism

The rise of the experience economy over the past two decades has focussed increasing attention on how experiences are created. In the initial conception of the experience economy by Pine and Gilmore twenty years ago, experiences were seen largely as being staged by producers for consumers. Gradually, however, more interactive experience concepts emerged, which initially centred on a more active role for the consumer in designing their own experiences, or ‘co-creation’. In recent years the blurring of boundaries between offline and online experiences has also highlighted the growth of communities of users around specific experiences, and the role that these communities have in experience development.

The co-creation of experience requires a new, more active relationship between producers and consumers. This new relationship is now becoming evident in tourism and hospitality, where consumers have increasing influence on the design of products and experiences, but where the residents in tourism destinations are becoming major producers of experiences as well. One of the reasons for this is the sheer volume of city tourism. According to the World Tourism Monitor, in 2014, Europeans alone made nearly 70 million city trips to international destinations, a 60% rise compared with 2007. At least part of this increase has been made possible by the development of new forms of hospitality facilities, including sharing economy platforms such as Airbnb.

The growth of tourism and hospitality has significant implications for cities such as Amsterdam, which hosted more than two million extra overnight visitors in 2015 compared with 2011. This growth is beginning to shape the city itself, as indicated by a recent report from the Rekenkamer Amsterdam. This indicated that 68% of the shops in the centre of Amsterdam now have a tourist-orientated nature. The number of ice-cream outlets grew by 430% between 2008 and 2015, and the number of bike rental shops by 150%.

Cities as hubs of tourism co-creation

Cities centres have therefore become consumption spaces, stages for a plethora of new events and the main locations for a series of new built icons. We see the emergence of ‘eventful cities’ that have developed a portfolio of events throughout the year to attract tourists and animate the city. Cities such as Amsterdam and Barcelona are now so full of events that residents often complain about growing ‘festivalisation’. Other cities have relied on the construction of new buildings and monuments to attract attention. Bilbao put itself on the global map with the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in 1997, and has been attracting large number of tourists ever since. Cities can also position themselves through intangible culture. Austin Texas is one of a growing number of ‘music cities’ that attract visitors with their range of music festivals and their music heritage. More traditional ‘art cities’ such as Florence and Vienna rely on their range of museums, galleries and artistic connections to underpin their tourist flows.

All of these different development strategies have a few things in common. They are driven by consumer demand for experiences, they depend on attracting large numbers of people in relatively short periods of time, and they require a certain programming or curation of the experience offer. In leisure it is important to understand the rapidly changing needs of the consumer. The best means of doing this is to get as close as possible to them. So co-creation becomes a strategy for producers to find out about the needs and desires of the consumer.

Cities are prime locations for the co-creation of experiences. This is because they have a considerable stock of cultural and creative capital, but they also possess symbolic capital and are centres of communication and visibility. In a physical sense cities are also attractive because they offer scenarios in which different groups coincide: residents, tourists, leisure visitors, workers, migrants. The mix of different people, cultures and tastes provides the cosmopolitan atmosphere sought after by so many tourists and members of the mobile creative class.

New urban spaces of co-creation

Examples of new tourism spaces abound in cities. In addition to the many ice-cream shops and bike rental outlets appearing in Amsterdam, cities around the globe are seeing a rise in transport, entertainment and accommodation facilities for tourists. Apartments have long been rented to tourists, but now Airbnb and similar sharing economy sites are allowing tourists to ‘live life like a local’. Tourists can move through the city on rental bikes, but also on special tourist busses, scooters, mopeds, rickshaws, tuk-tuks, trams and segways.

Even work is also becoming a tourist pursuit, through the development of co-working spaces. These are often places in which ‘digital nomads’ come together. There are growing numbers of people who make a living working remotely, building websites and maintaining blogs, moving from one city to another. This trend is helping to fuel the growth of co-working spaces, and according to the Global Co-Working Survey by the end of 2017, nearly 1.2 million people worldwide will have worked in a co-working space. These developments are stimulating new forms of tourism and hospitality, such as the co-working sabbaticals provided by websites such as, who offer the chance to ‘live anywhere, one month at a time’.

New forms of accommodation as city-shapers

The increase in urban tourism is leading to a growth and diversification of tourist accommodation. Alongside hotels, budget hotels and boutique hotels a wave of new types of hostels, student residences and Airbnb apartments has arrived. Much of the new budget accommodation in cities is related to the growth of low cost airlines and the growth of youth travel. Young people are avid travellers, and even more avid experience consumers. They tend to be on the leading edge of new trends and technology adoption, and therefore act as a useful litmus test for new experiences. Many of the experiences young travellers desire are located in cities, and particularly in the centre of cities. Research by WYSE Travel Confederation has shown that the most important motives for travel include exploring other cultures (91% indicating this was important in the decision to travel) and increasing my knowledge (88%), closely followed by interacting with local people and experiencing everyday life (both 85%). This underlines the importance of social interaction with locals for young people. Young travellers are therefore at the forefront of the ‘living like a local’ trend, which Paolo Russo and Greg Richards explain in detail in their new book Reinventing the Local in Tourism (2016).

The trend towards the consumption of the local is particularly evident in the centre of large cities. People are fascinated by how people live and how their lifestyle differs and fits in with the local landscape. This is also an important spur for the development of the new youth hostels, such as Generator Hostels. Generator positions itself as a ‘design-led’ company, which is inspired by the urban surroundings of its hostels: Our inspiration has always come from our surroundings. We wanted the design of each hostel to reflect the city itself. The canals running through Venice, the artwork of Berlin and Barcelona’s architecture – some of the best and most ambitious in the world. These cities are unique , they are beautiful and one thing they have in common? Wonderful Design.

In addition to the physical design of the buildings, Generator also embeds the hostels in the local context through a customised programme of events and activities. In Amsterdam, for example, they organise ‘GenTalks’, their own version of TED Talks in a former bike factory. The coffee for the hostel is also delivered by bike from a local coffee roasting company. As Fredrik Korallus Chief Executive Officer of Generator Hostels emphasised, this is part of creating an ongoing series of experiences linked to the brand. Destination, location and building are important, but so are ‘being part of the place’, and engaging with local communities. The brand appeals to young creatives working in advertising, music and fashion, who are attracted by the curated offer of design, art, music, food and drink and entertainment.

The growing desire of young tourists for these types of urban experiences have stimulated a rapid growth in the supply of youth travel accommodation in recent years. It is now estimated that there are over 18,000 youth hostels worldwide, and many other suppliers are moving into this lucrative market, for example student residences, budget hotels and sharing economy platforms such as Airbnb.

Research by WYSE Travel Confederation indicates that there has been a significant shift of youth hostel accommodation towards major hostel chains in recent years. These chains tend to develop large sites in the centre of cities, running ‘bed factories’ of up to 1,000 beds. The supply of these major chains has grown by about 40% in the last five years, and is now having a considerable effect on certain areas in major city centres in Europe. We can see the effect of this growth in cities such as Lisbon and Porto, where the number of hostel beds have grown astronomically in the past decade.

Hostel beds in Lisbon and Porto.

The effect of this growth has been to create new hostel enclaves in recent years, as accommodation providers crowd around the key sites in the city centre, and sometimes beyond. In Barcelona, for example, there are now a new cluster of hostels in the Gràcia district, where a 700 bed Generator hostel has now been joined by around a dozen smaller operations. This growth has in turn attracted bike rental shops, trendy cafes and other businesses aimed at hostel guests (see photos).

An even more rapid growth has been seen in Airbnb accommodation, which is also usually concentrated in the centre of large cities. In Amsterdam, for example, the number of Airbnb listings grew from 7,784 in April 2015 to 13,825 in July 2016. Since then, stronger controls by the Municipality seem to have slowed the growth rate, with 13,849 listings in April 2017, only slightly up on 2016. Airbnb gives access to private homes through the ‘sharing economy’, which implies that locals are sharing their homes with visitors. In many cases, however, these are no longer private homes, but commercial accommodation operations being run by companies. This development has been shown to drive up the cost of rented accommodation in many cities, forcing locals out of their homes to make way for Airbnb operations. Unlike hostels, which often use old commercial and office buildings, Airbnb is taking over residential properties.

The growth of hostels and Airbnb in the centre of major cities raises a number of questions about the integration of visitors into the local community. How many Airbnb apartments or mega hostels can a city (or more accurately a city district) cope with? Studies by Generator Hostels indicate that their operations have a strong positive impact on the local area, but there is little doubt that there are also problems related to noise and anti-social behaviour, particularly in relation to Airbnb. The report from the Rekenkamer Amsterdam indicates that residents now see tourist accommodation as the most important area where the Municipality should take action in relation to tourism.

The question will inevitably arise – what kind of action should be taken? In Barcelona the Municipality has recently tried to take measures to halt the growth of tourism and to control the spread of tourist accommodation. However, these measures have had little real effect. Airbnb listings in Barcelona grew from 12,000 in April 2015 to almost 15,000 at the beginning of 2016 and by April 2017 stood at 17,369. The website Inside Airbnb indicated that around 57.5% of the listings were multiple, in other words likely to be run as a business rather than for a little extra income. This commercialisation of Airbnb is arguably driving processes of gentrification, as businesses buy up properties to rent on Airbnb, which generates higher rents than long-term residents.

There is some evidence from other cities that stricter controls are having an impact on the spread of Airbnb, but policing these developments is complex. In Amsterdam they are trying to use big data to track down illegal Airbnb operations, but it remains to be seen how effective such tactics will be in the longer term. One of the problems with such forms of co-creation is that there are suddenly a lot more accommodation ‘businesses’ or co-creators, to deal with.


Dit artikel maakt onderdeel uit van de serie artikelen uit Uncover die we op het NRIT Media Vrijetijdsplatform publiceren. Het volledige overzicht met reeds gepubliceerde en aanstaande artikelen staat hier. Uncover is een nieuwe periodiek van de NHTV Academy for Leisure die daarmee een platform wil bieden om onderzoek en projecten te delen met haar netwerk.

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